Ian Balfour reviews The Benjamin Files by Fredric Jameson, in the LA Review of Books:
THE WORK OF Walter Benjamin continues to beguile, teach, provoke, enlighten, madden, even inspire. If some of the debates about his work are tired and people have had their fill of the great, generative “Mechanical Reproduction” essay (better “Technical Reproducibility”), and if he is sometimes too easily deferred to as a kind of “Saint Benjamin,” as Michael Jennings terms it, Benjamin remains one of the best figures with whom to think. And one of the most rereadable. This last has to do with what Jameson calls, after Barthes, the “writerly” texture of his work. If common-garden-variety criticism tends to be fairly inconspicuous in relation to its objects of study, a good deal of Benjamin’s work presents itself as writing to be pondered and puzzled over in its own right, the writerly being, for Jameson, conceived as not so conducive to being understood.
There’s no such thing as an ideal reader, but Jameson is far better primed than most to do justice to just those materials and texts that Benjamin engaged with, and not simply because of his formidable powers of analysis and synthesis. One of Jameson’s prime areas of expertise — French literature (and culture and history) of the 19th century — coincides with Benjamin’s main interest of the 1930s. Add to this deep knowledge of the history of Marxism and the attendant politics. Plus, he’s far better grounded in philosophy than most good literary critics, and he’s well versed or conversant in proximate and not-so-proximate disciplines (film, architecture, sociology, urbanism, et al.). Plus, his long-standing interest in and consumption of popular culture parallels impulses in Benjamin. Plus, he’s written book-length studies of two of Benjamin’s three main men: Brecht and Adorno. He’s even something of a Berlin-o-phile.